Can Women Have ‘Power Casual’ Style At Work?

For most people, being able to dress casually at work is great news. It takes a load of your shoulders. No more expensive suits, conservative dresses and high heels. But for some women who work at hedge funds and similar businesses, dressing casually can be quite stressful. According to Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal, women can’t convey as much power as men when they dress casually. Is there no such thing as “power casual” style for women? We asked some experts if they thought this was true.

In the WSJ article, former hedge fund manager Kay Garkusha complained about the difficulties of office casual women’s attire in a financial field. The top men at hedge funds were said to wear Seven Jeans and Lacoste shirts (that cost almost as much as suits.) However, a woman could not wear that and convey the same amount of professionalism. There was no equivalency of that outfit for women. “You can’t dress like the guys and you can’t dress like the other women who are in support roles,” said Garkusha.

Garkusha sums up the hedge-fund dress code for men as the attitude that “we can dress like this because we make a lot of money.” An easy way to show off money when dressing casually is through accessories, but adding an Hermes scarf or pearl necklace to what is supposed to be casual, can look overdone and garish. The woman could risk alienating clients if she flaunts her wealth so obviously, but she also doesn’t want to look like she is underdressed.

Kat Griffin, founder of Corporette, told The Grindstone:

“I’ve long thought that the “power business casual” uniform is missing for women. I agree that it’s far, far easier for women to make a misstep — a Hermes scarf may convey wealth and power to one person in the room, but someone else may think she raided her grandmother’s closet.  Pearls… even the classic black sheath dress can be problematic because by itself some guys may interpret it as a date-night “little black dress.” If the guys in the room are wearing jeans and polos, I think women take a huge step in the right direction by pairing walkable heels with dark jeans with an interesting blazer, whether it’s a classic like Chanel or Armani, or a more modern look like Smythe or Rag & Bone.  Also, I’ve known more than one woman who wore a man’s Rolex in that environment — it’s a status symbol the men around you may understand.”

Marion Green, founder of Marion Berry Style, told The Grindstone:

“Can men really convey power in their casual wear?  Whether it seems fair or not…I would tend to say yes.  A successful man can be sporting a casual outfit ripped straight from the pages of GQ Magazine and give off an essence of power much more so than a woman in casual dress.  Of course, this depends on the industry. Women in the fashion industry can wear more casual pieces and still convey the sense of professional-coolness.”

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